Create an API for any site with Dapper

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A new service called Blotter from startup Dapper (dappit.com) is getting some good coverage
around the blogosphere today. Blotter graphs Technorati data for any
blog over time. Most exciting to me though is Dapper’s basic
service, just launched this week. The company says it’s
effectively offering an easy way to create an API from any website.
This might look like crass screen scraping on the surface, but the
company aims to offer some legitimate, valuable services and set up a
means to respect copyright. The site is clearly useful now.

Dapper
provides a point and click GUI to extract data from any web site that
can then be worked with and displayed via XML, HTML, RSS, email alerts,
Google Maps, Google Gadgets, a javascript image loop or JSON. The site
could use a UI overhaul to make it easier for nontechnical users and
copyright issues will have to be dealt with. That said, Dapper is
pretty awesome.

Dapper is lead by Jon Aizen, a Cornel CS graduate who’s worked
on the Alexa Archive and the Internet Archive and CEO Eran Shir. Aizen
says the company aims ultimately to offer a marketplace for content
reuse through Dapper, allowing publishers to set the terms and prices
for any creative reuse of their published content. This is the kind of
thing that it takes serious negotiation to do today, but Dapper has the
potential to make such deals far easier for far more people. For
developers Dapper will just save time, Aizen says.

Here’s how it works. Users identify a web site they are
interested in extracting data from and view it through the Dapper
virtual browser. Aizen showed my how to do it using Digg as an example.
I clicked on a story headline, on the number of diggs and the via URL
field. I went to another page on the same site and did the same thing
so that Dapper could clearly identify the fields I was interested in. I
then went through the various tools available on the site to set
certain conditions and threshholds and ended up with XML feeds I could
do all kinds of things with. Like send me an email whenever
there’s a TechCrunch story on the front page of digg, or when a
search results page shows a TechCrunch story with more than 10 diggs.
After I create an end product through the site, other users will be
able (after a 24 hour period in which I can edit the project) to use my
project either as is, altered to fit their needs or in the future, in
combination with other projects.

The
alerts are of most interest to me, but data from other sites can be
mapped on Google Maps, turned into an RSS feed for sites that
don’t publish feeds, turned into a slideshow if the data is in
the form of images. Aizen says he’s created a tool for himself
that runs feeds through Babblefish automatically and produces a
translated feed. The possibilities are huge.

Privacy and licencing the technology so it runs on your own servers
are both things the company is looking at for the future. Both are
pretty key.

Though the company says the site is largely a proof of concept they
are also seeking seed funding and it’s pretty usable already.
Dapper says it’s aiming high: what Geocities did for static web
pages, they want to do for dynamic content reuse. If they can find a
good way to manage the rights pitfalls around reused content, and
I’d like to believe it’s possible, then we may start seeing
a lot of dazzling new ways to interact with data built via Dapper and
popping up around the web.

Create an API for any site with Dapper

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One Response to “Create an API for any site with Dapper”

  1. mindorange Says:

    Nice introduction. Dapper is powerful and easy to use, however it does have some weaknesses, e.g. the service is easy to breakdown because it’s fully based on screenscraping.

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